DISCLAIMER: The following piece is rife with spoilers galore for Black Sails. You’ve been warned. Proceed with caution.
Now, if someone told me two years ago I’d eventually list a Michael Bay produced series as one of my favorites, I’d tell them without hesitation to get their head examined. You mean that Michael Bay, as in the Transformers guy? Inconceivable! Yet here we are, and I can wholeheartedly proclaim that Black Sails, a Michael Bay production, is one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen. Hands down. Everything from the writing to the acting to the gruesome fight choreography is pitch perfect. Its overall story is griping and never loses steam throughout its tenure. Throw in some breathtaking cinematic shots with intricate costumes and you’ve got a pirate adventure for the ages.
Of course, one thing I look for in a TV series is whether its female characters are developed beyond their collective surface. Are they just as well-developed as their male counterparts? We’re in the thick of a “Strong Female Renaissance” period in television, so to speak. Writers rooms are welcoming more women across the threshold, and female characters are finally multi-faceted people with wants and needs. We’re starting to see more representation across the board, including LGBTQIA+ characters and women of color.
Now, Black Sails boasts a plethora of strong women with clear objectives and means to succeed. Granted, this series takes place in the early 18th century, wherein women were still viewed as less-than in comparison to men. However, these characters pulled the strings behind the scenes, and generally got sh*t done while the men played pirates. The women of Nassau are forces to be reckoned with, breaking barriers and shattering glass ceilings. Let’s pull back the layers and delve into who these women were, shall we?
Initially, Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New) was the mover and shaker in Nassau, the capital of New Providence Island. Sure, she ran an enterprise rife with plunder from pirates with questionable morals, but she was still in charge all the same. Eleanor had the ability to exert authority despite the naysayers. People generally listened to her. She maintained commerce, which kept the city afloat. Eleanor had grit and was pragmatic during a time when women were viewed as overly emotional creatures.
Not to mention, she never allowed a romantic entanglement to cloud her judgement. For example: when she learned that her beau Charles Vane’s (Zach McGowan) men were keeping prostitute Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy) as a sex slave, she put a stop to it. She even threatened to prevent Vane’s men from bringing in plunder to exchange for coin unless they released Max. Eleanor knew her worth, was fearless and fought tooth and nail to achieve her standing. If that isn’t inspirational, I don’t know what is.
Now, Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy) was quite the enigma from the start. She kept her cards close to her chest, and seldom ever expressed vulnerability. Most dismissed her because she was a prostitute, but Max had a heaping helping of brains. Her intellect superseded most men in her time. She could scheme and plot with the best of them. Max was ambitious and unafraid of stepping on a few toes to fulfill her desires.
On the flip side, when Max started her tryst with pirate Anne Bonny (Clara Paget), she showed another aspect of her that was previously unseen. A person who loves freely and without abandon, in spite of being an LGBTQIA+ character living in an oppressive time. Max’s all-consuming passion didn’t make her weak – it reminded us that women can be strong and sensitive. We are many things. Max eventually ran a brothel and managed to retain her autonomy after a new Governor of Nassau was instated. Not only that, but she had the freedom to keep her relationship with Anne intact. At face value, the governor appeared to be in charge. But we know Max was really calling the shots behind the scenes. The best of both worlds!
Did someone ask for a bad*** female pirate sailing the high seas amid a bunch of male rapscallions? Anne Bonny (Clara Paget) was a real person, and one of a handful of real-life characters represented in Black Sails. She could swear better than a man and hold her liquor with the best of them. Her fighting skills were far superior in comparison to her fellow male pirates, especially her deftness with a sword. Anne was quick on her feet and could hold her own in battle. Essentially, you don’t want to run into her in a dark alley.
Now, she also discovered her bisexuality over the course of Black Sails. She loved her soulmate Jack Rackham (Toby Schmitz) but also carried a torch for Max. Anne learned that vulnerability isn’t a weakness, and her love for Max wasn’t a crime. A physically strong and sensitive pirate? She’s the whole package!
Madi (Zethu Dlomo) entered the fight against England later in the game. She was the ambitious and clever daughter of the Maroon Queen, who ran a queendom on a remote island rife with former slaves. When Captain Flint (Toby Stephens), John Silver (Luke Arnold) and their crew arrived on said island with a plan to take down England, Madi immediately hopped aboard. She was next in line to inherit her mother’s throne, but that didn’t impede her from partaking in a dangerous political war. Madi was a former slave hellbent on standing up to white supremacy, tag-teaming with a band of pirates also intent on seeing England burn. Madi’s grit and no-nonsense attitude quickly garnered my favoritism.
Not to mention, her blossoming romance with Silver never prevented her from getting sh*t done. Love be damned! Madi was married to the cause through and through. She also had the uncanny ability to swipe a man off his pedestal with dagger-like words. I wish my words held that much power, but I’m also not a future queen.
The Maroon Queen
Now, the Maroon Queen (Moshidi Motshegwa) also joined the series in Season 3. She was a force to be reckoned with. The Maroon Queen ran a tight ship, and always put the safety of her people before her own. She was sharp, immensely clever and could kill a man with a look. Well, not literally, but her intensity was unmatched. She knew the gamble she was taking when she partnered with pirates, but she also knew that freedom was at stake. More importantly, the freedom of slaves everywhere. The Maroon Queen was selfless and dictated just as much by reason as by her passions. Queen Elizabeth, who?
Lastly, we had Marion Guthrie (Harriet Walter), who was Eleanor’s grandmother. Unfortunately, Eleanor passed away before we could see the two interact, but Max ventured out of Nassau to meet the elder Guthrie. As it turned out, Marion was surreptitiously running her husband’s business dealings behind the scenes. After Jack Rackham was denied aid in ridding Nassau of Woodes Rogers (Luke Roberts) by Eleanor’s grandfather, Marion sought out Max to lend a hand in the affairs. She suggested Max wed a well-to-do man to govern Nassau. Well, in name only. Max would be overseeing the governing of said city behind closed doors. Unfortunately, that’s all a woman could hope for in 1715. Max turned down the offer, citing that she wouldn’t want to marry someone for any other reason besides love – and we know she loved Anne.
Anyway, Marion Guthrie was poised and refined on the surface, but she possessed a keen awareness unrivaled by most. Despite her short-lived appearance on Black Sails, I felt drawn to Marion and her sophistication. She was a more sleek version of her granddaughter – someone we could have seen Eleanor mature into had her life not been cut tragically short. Level-headed, intelligent and the big boss lurking in the shadows. I hope to be her when I grow up.
Now, these formidable women are a huge part of why I adore Black Sails. They are so well-written, fleshed out and full of complex intricacies. Not to mention, the actresses brought their A-game with outstanding performances across the board. These fascinating characters could very well exist today – you could pluck them out of 1715, plop them in 2019 and I’d find them perfectly relatable. Characters that transcend their respective time period and strike a chord with us in our modern world are ones worth admiring. I may not be a swashbuckling 18th century pirate, a brothel madam, a queen or a ruler of commerce, but I can look to these women for inspiration in my own life.
We are women. Hear us roar.
Black Sails Seasons 1-4 are available for streaming on Hulu and Starz.
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